An Open Letter To

PROLOGUE: In May of 2005, Stephen played sets at the Florida Music Festival in downtown Orlando. The festival uses multiple venues to showcase multiple acts each night for three nights. He was not impressed.


Dear Florida Music Festival,

 Just thought you might want to hear an artist's take of his first FMF experience.

  My first impression was disappointment. The so-called "acoustic" acts (i.e., artists that dared play solo or duo without a full band to cover their mistakes) were mostly relegated to where I was placed, DMAC [Downtown Media Arts Centre]. This
eliminated the "wander by" factor, as it was off the Orange Avenue strip where most of the venues were. If someone went to DMAC, they knew of the artist already and went specifically to see them; otherwise there was plenty of music to discover without bothering to leave Orange. So performing at the festival was basically paying $30 to play to people who came to see me play elsewhere already. I also had to email two days before the gig for details because whoever was in charge had forgotten to contact me.

   That being said, DMAC is a nice little coffeehouse, I've played there more than once before, and their staff was friendly and
supportive. This time was a little different, though. As the promised FMF tech guys were busy somewhere on Orange Avenue, I and a DMAC volunteer had to hook up DMAC's P.A. system ourselves (a DMAC employee came in and tweaked the results as we were finishing up). Nice.

  But the worst thing about the gig was that there was a large art reception in the other side of the room that kept some of the people who actually came to hear me from hearing much. DMAC calls it the "other room"; seeing as it was separated from us by a partial wall with open arches at either end, I consider it the same room. Either DMAC should have told you that there was already something happening there that night and had the schedule adjusted accordingly, or you should have chosen another venue for that night. Imagine putting a bar mitzvah between your two stages facing each other on Wall Street Plaza during
the festival performances and you have an idea of how disrespected I felt.

   I did a good set regardless, and got some great feedback. Imagine my chances for a positive experience if I hadn't played on a tiny island for 5 people with 100 drunken partiers in the "art room" drowning me out (and hearing our sets without paying to get in I might add...they even cost you money).

Then came Saturday, where I was doing a 15-minute mini-set at a Festival open-mic at Cafe Annie. I got there to find the owner had heard nothing of an open-mic there. After some phone calls he told us FMF moved it down the street to another bar with open doors after a lovely rain instead of Cafe Annie, which is inside with a/c. Hot, muggy, screwed. Do you see a pattern here? After my set, I gave the next performer a guitar cord and told him to keep it, because of course FMF hadn't heard of those either.

    At that point I checked the schedule to make sure I could make the Leave Calmer set at the Back Booth at 10 PM. (Of the thirty-some groups that paid to get onto the official CD sampler handed out at sign-in, Leave Calmer is the only band I found original enough to want to see.) My friends and I hit the Back Booth at 10 sharp to find a Weezeresque band playing. Not too bad, but nowhere near what I came to see. Checking at the front, the girl said Leave Calmer played on Thursday. So of course, the printed schedule was as out of order as the rest of the event. "The lead singer is playing stuff at DMAC at 12:30," she said. "Check that out." Yeah, like I'm waiting two hours for another maybe. This ain't baseball, but FMF already had three strikes, so I left.

 In the back of my mind, when I first applied for the festival I saw it as not much more than FMF making money off of the artists they were supposedly really interested in. Application fee, pay to go to industry panels, pay to get a song on the official sampler CD, pay to put your own flier or disc into the bag handed out to participants, lots of corporate sponsors; it's not too hard to see the priority. This seems pretty much proven now.

 How can you make it better? It might be nice next year if you move some of the acoustic acts to the other clubs, they'd break up the monotony of all those other bands that pretty much all sounded the same. Also, keeping to the posted schedule once it's printed would be an admirable goal. This of course would entail double-checking everything before you print it. And how about making the entry fee per band member instead of per act? We solo performers paid the same as acts with lots of members, and got lots less attention and support.

 And you wonder why the music industry is dying? It's lost a lot of its sales thanks to downloading technology; the concert business continues to price itself out of the market; and even radio is giving up on rock across the country in favor of Latin music. You might wanna be more considerate of artists; pretty soon they may be all that's left.

 Sour grapes? You bet. I deserved more, and now I've vented. No reply is requested or necessary. When you're done counting the money, fire the person who "coordinated" this mess.


 Stephen Grayce


POSTLOGUE: Stephen applied to play again at the 2006 festival. His application was declined. He smiled a little to himself.

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